3 ways stem cells could help your premature baby
Banking your baby’s stem cells at birth gives them the best possible chance of overcoming some serious health problems should they arrive prematurely.
As highlighted by World Prematurity Day on November 17, babies born too early often face long-term health complications. These include conditions that can affect their brain, lungs and vision.
Did you know? Each year, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm (before 37 completed weeks of gestation) and this number is rising.
So let’s take a closer look at three health issues your prem baby may have to face, and how stem cell therapy could help them.
1. Cerebral palsy – what is it and can stem cells help?
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a neurological condition which affects the brain and causes a lack of full control of physical movement.
Babies that are born early are at higher risk of developing cerebral palsy than babies who go full term. A premature birth can cause complications such as bleeding in the brain and the accumulation of fluid. It is these complications in tiny babies which can cause the lasting brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy.
Did you know? It’s estimated that nearly half of all children diagnosed with cerebral palsy were premature.
As the voluntary control centres of the brain don’t function in the first few months of life, cerebral palsy might not be immediately obvious after birth. Symptoms such as difficulty in sitting up, being unsteady, and being unable to grasp or hold things may start to appear after a few months.
It affects everyone differently. It could affect just one side of the body, or legs but not arms, or all four limbs and the trunk. It can include a difficulty in:
- Co-ordination of eye movements
So how can stem cell therapy combat cerebral palsy?
Ongoing research is looking at how stem cells could help treat cerebral palsy by enhancing the body’s repair mechanisms. The stem cells move to damaged areas in the brain and replace the dead or impaired cells.
A study in 2017 successfully used infusions of cord blood stem cells, taken out of storage, to improve movement in children with cerebral palsy.
Knowing that the risk of cerebral palsy goes up dramatically for premature babies, it makes sense to consider cord blood banking as a lifeline for your child, should they be born early.
2. Under-developed lungs
When a baby is born early, their bodies often haven’t had the chance to develop properly which can lead to all sorts of complications.
Newborn respiratory distress syndrome (NRDS) occurs when a baby’s lungs aren’t fully developed and can’t provide enough oxygen, resulting in breathing difficulties.
In healthy infants, the small, air-exchanging sacs in their lungs are coated by a soap-like material. In many cases, premature newborns haven’t produced enough of this substance and are unable to open their lungs fully to breathe.
Did you know? Respiratory distress is seen in 6-7% of newborns, the highest incidence being among preterm babies.
Chronic lung disease
Another problem affecting preterm babies with under-developed lungs is bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). This chronic lung disease can lead to fluid collecting in the lungs, scarring and lung damage. Some babies can go on to develop asthma-like symptoms as a result.
How can stem cell therapy help under-developed lungs?
The good news is your baby’s umbilical cord is a rich source of the particular kind of stem cells (MSCs) known for their superior healing qualities. They are there and ready to help.
With that in mind, over the past decade, clinical studies have been looking at the potential role of using stem cells to repair lung tissue. Research has also concentrated on how these cord blood cells can also restore the structure of the lung and treat acute lung injuries.
In a 2017 study, these cells were successfully administered to nine very preterm infants at high risk of developing this chronic lung disease. Researchers were tentative in their conclusions but noted the severity of the disease suffered was significantly lower when compared with babies born at the same time with the same respiratory problems.
If your baby is premature, sadly there’s a real risk that they could develop lung problems. Collecting and storing their stem cells when they are born, provides peace of mind that help is on hand should you need it.
3. Eye problems
Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) occurs when a baby is born too early for all the processes for normal eye function to have developed.
The retina in the eye needs a constant blood supply to provide oxygen. The vessels that supply this blood usually develop between weeks 16 and 36 of pregnancy.
If a baby is born early and the development of these blood vessels is incomplete, there will be areas on the retina that do not receive enough oxygen.
This triggers the production of chemicals to produce new blood vessels which are fragile and can leak blood causing scarring. The retina is pulled out of position, affecting your baby’s ability to see properly.
Did you know? This type of eye problem affects around 20% of premature babies who are born before week 32 of pregnancy or weigh less than 1,500g when they are born.
How can stem cell therapy help eye problems?
Studies show that cord blood stem cells can not only regenerate and replace damaged cells but also promote eye repair.
The stem cells also have the bonus ability to change nearby cells promoting the formation of normal, healthy blood vessels and capillaries.
The outlook for premature babies
If your baby arrives premature, it can throw your world upside down. But whatever health challenges you and your newborn may face, banking their stem cells at birth provides an invaluable resource to help you overcome them.
Smart Cells is the UK’s first private cord blood storage company, helping parents from across the world take the pioneering decision to store the stem cells of their babies for greater security of health. For more information on umbilical cord blood banking or to organise a consultation, please email us on UAE@smartcells.com, or click here.
About the author: Shamshad Ahmed, CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International.
Shamshad Ahmed is CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International Ltd. Founded in 2000, Smart Cells is the UK’s first private cord blood company – its goal is to give parents more access to potentially life-saving treatment for their families. Smart Cells is one of the UK’s largest private banks, operating across the globe and storing over 50,000 cord blood samples from people in over 70 countries. Shamshad started his career in finance and foreign exchange at Citibank before moving over to the world of clinical trials. He holds a degree from Nottingham Trent University, and has been a member of the Young President’s Organization since 2008, having served on the board for a number of those years.